PATERSON, NJ - A sketchy tax resolution left a councilman irate and a mayoral candidate terming the council's decision to adopt it "a charade."
The city council adopted a finance resolution allowing Paterson’s tax collector to sell tax sale certificates to outside investors despite lacking detail. Those who disapproved said the resolution represented a “broken system” and “incompetence” in the city’s administration. Approvers called the resolution a necessity.
Property owners with tax liens can be handed over to a third party in exchange for the city receiving for payment for outstanding taxes.
The list attached to the resolution totaled more than $17 million in tax liens; most of it is unlikely to be collected by Paterson.
More alarming to Councilman William McKoy, however, were some questionable property owners flagged on the list, including a church known by the councilman and vacant lots.
For more than 30 minutes, McKoy questioned Business Administrator Charles Thomas about details of the tax resolution, with many of his questions going unanswered. McKoy said he was frustrated by the way thousands of dollars of unpaid taxes could fly under the radar and then show up on the list without explanation. Several of the properties listed could possibly be exempted by the city.
When Thomas admitted there was a discrepancy on the list, McKoy voiced his hesitation to approve the resolution.
“I hate to vote on something that I’m looking at, and you’re acknowledging and telling me it’s not correct, we’re going to have to clean it up later,” said McKoy. “So why am I voting on it? That bothers me.”
Thomas responded that less than “a tenth” of the items on the list were incorrect.
“I don’t care,” said McKoy. If it’s a penny off, it’s not reconciled.”
“Why present this?” asked McKoy. “And what is the expectation? You present this to the council and we’re just going to approve it because you present it?”
McKoy’s argument didn’t sway his fellow council members, who adopted the resolution moments later.
Councilman Ken Morris said the resolution was a necessity and is already anticipated revenue in the budget. But although the list values the tax liens at more than $17 million, the city will probably only acquire $1 million because of the hesitation to buy the certificates, according to Morris.
The tax certificate’s soon-approaching sale date was another reason behind his vote.
“Given the fact that the sale is scheduled for May 30, my vote is Yes,” said Morris.
Residents said they were hurt by the decision. Mayoral hopeful Maria Teresa Feliciano says the business administrator’s inability to answer pertinent questions about the resolution, and the council’s decision to still adopt it, is “the charade of the inept.”
“If this wasn’t so serious, it would be funny,” said Feliciano. “You’d think it were a comedy.”
When asked why a map was not included in the presentation, it was discovered that a map was indeed sent to the city clerk’s office but somehow did not make its way to the council meeting due to a misunderstanding.
Still, the question of how a council could adopt a resolution without basic detail and no one to answer for it, lingers in the minds of residents.
“For the lack of work like this, people get fired or go to jail," said Feliciano. “You’re talking about the administration of a city.”